Monday, March 05, 2018

There Was Not A Single Moment Of Failure





When the two-year-old girl first caught my eye she was standing directly beneath the trapeze bar, craning her neck to look up at it. She reached upward, stretching on tip toe, her fingers opening and closing as if trying to grab hold, but coming short of her goal.


She dropped her arms and looked around, spotting a stool some ways off. Retrieving it, she attempted to position it under the trapeze bar. It fell over. She attempted to right it. It fell over again. She tried again, finally succeeding in getting it in place. 


Climbing atop it was no easy feat. There was nothing to hold onto for support and the step up was higher than was comfortable for her little legs. Twice she toppled onto her seat in the effort, but she persevered, crawling onto the stool's platform on her hands and knees, squeezing her body so it all fit there, then carefully standing to her full height.


She looked up at the trapeze bar now, but couldn't at first see it. She had positioned the stool too far forward. Arching her back she spied the bar behind her. She made one reach for it, but realized it was too far away, so dismounted the stool, reversing the process she had developed for mounting it.


This time when she moved the stool, she repeatedly looked up at the bar to ensure that she was directly beneath it. Again, she had trouble getting it to remain on its four feet. Again, she toppled to the ground in the effort, twice, picking herself up each time, her expression of concentration unchanged by any of her tribulations. 


Now she climbed onto the stool, employing the crawling technique she'd discovered from her previous attempt, rising to her feet, finding the bar overhead, then reaching up to grasp it.


I had been sitting a ways off, but when she got hold of that trapeze bar, I stood, an involuntary act of celebration on her behalf. I was driven to get closer to her. She stood with her feet on the stool and hands holding the bar for several seconds. When she noticed me nearby, she smiled up at me like a champion, then launched herself into her swing, the daring young girl on the flying trapeze.


I know it's often hard for parents to not help their children when they struggle. After all, it was only a few months ago that these people were newborns who needed the adults in their lives to do virtually everything for them, but it's also vital that we teach ourselves to allow them their struggles, even if it means letting them fall down. It would have been so easy for me to see failure in her first attempts to launch herself on that trapeze bar, to right the stool for her, to move it into its proper place, to interfere with nonsense words like "Are you okay?" when she fell, to even lift her up to the bar. But there was not a single moment of failure here. Each fall, each repositioning of the stool, each reach that came up empty were all necessary steps in her process. 


And when she launched herself, she beamed. She didn't need my support, she didn't need my help, she didn't need me to tell her "good job" or "well done," none of it, because what she had done was all her own and she knew it, that daring young girl on the flying trapeze.


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